In the span of the last year, Adrian Romero went from construction worker to food truck operator to brick-and-mortar restaurateur, specializing in the Agua Prieta-style Mexican cuisine he grew up on in Douglas.
On Dec. 13, Romero, who has lived in Tucson 13 years, opened Olé Rico Mexican Steakhouse in the old Mr. K’s BBQ space at 1830 S. Park Ave. The restaurant serves a streamlined menu of burritos, Mexican sandwiches and quesadillas, ranging in price from $2.50 to $4.50. The most expensive item on the menu is the $12 grilled-steak plate served with tortillas.
Romero said he has been cooking all his life, but he made his living doing construction with an uncle in Tucson.
Last spring, he rolled out his Olé Rico food truck, which looks like a little cabin on wheels. He cooked steaks and burgers on an outdoor grill fueled by mesquite wood. He parked mostly on Tucson’s southwest side near South Valencia Road and South Westover Avenue, and took the truck out on weekends to a few community events including Cyclovia and Second Saturdays Downtown.
Business was good, but the southwest-side neighborhood wasn’t the safest.
“It was kind of dangerous where I was at,” Romero said. “Where I was at in Pima County, it was hard to find a spot.”
Romero said he decided to make the leap to permanent restaurant after talking to the building’s owner, Charles Kendrick. Kendrick, the namesake for Mr. K’s BBQ, runs his Afro-American Heritage Museum in half of the building and has had a restaurant in the other half since the late 1990s.
“I think it was the only possible setup for me to work the menu because he has the outside grills,” Romero said.
Romero said he started working on cleaning up and painting the space in November. It had been vacant for months, since a short-lived Caribbean restaurant closed last summer. Mr. K’s, which Kendrick’s son, Ray, ran for more than a decade, moved farther south to 6302 S. Park Ave. in the summer of 2012.
Olé Rico has an Old West feel to it, with small saddles serving as kids’ booster seats, a patch of barbed wire from Southern Arizona’s ranching history displayed on one wall and mining tools prominently displayed on another. Miniature versions of old movie posters, many of them filmed in the Tucson area, hang in the dining room.
Romero said once he settles into the restaurant, he’ll bring the food truck to special community events.
“I want to do a lot of public events with it,” he said. “It’s really neat. It’s looks like a cabin.”